REEL STORY: If You Want a Screenwriting Agent, You Need To Read This

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Agents don’t want to read your script. That might sound harsh and discouraging, but it’s the truth.

Agents are extremely busy. Given the challenges of the marketplace, they have to work harder and harder to keep their clients employed.  This doesn’t leave much time for reading. Many of the agents I know have to get up at six in the morning on weekends to keep up with the new material their own clients are generating, which means they’d have to get up at five in the morning to read your script.

screenwriting representationWould you want to get up at five in the morning on a Sunday to read a script written by a complete stranger?  Well, neither would an agent.

So forget paying some script consultant, teacher or anyone offering to shop your script to the town. Agents tune those folks out. They know these people are running a business (or scam) and they aren’t about to give up precious sleep to read a script hawked by such a source.

The only real way to get an agent to read your script is to get someone they trust to recommend it.

This means getting a manager, successful writer, director, producer or executive to put their credibility on the line for you. But that won’t happen unless you can write a truly amazing, authentic script. Most writers can’t achieve this. Not even close. And sadly, most writers don’t know it.  So they continue to write script after script, wondering why it’s so damn hard to get an agent.

How come most writers can’t write a script that’s good enough to be recommended to an agent?  There are three main reasons.  I’ll cover one of them here and the other two in future articles.

DEAD ON ARRIVAL

When you finally do get your shot with an agent or manager, they aren’t necessarily going to read your entire screenplay.  They will read the first scene or two, and unless these scenes are pitch-perfect, they will toss your script.  The reason should be obvious: If someone can’t write a remarkably great scene they have no shot at writing a great script.

So let me ask you an all-important question.  What percentage of writers are capable of writing strong enough scenes that can make an industry reader want to keep reading?

I recently brought three managers into my UCLA class and asked them this very question.  Here are their answers:

“About one percent.”
“Less then one percent.”
“Far less then one percent.”

This means that at least ninety-nine percent of scripts are thrown away after only a few pages. This is heartbreaking, but true.

Yet, most writers think they can write great scenes.  I’ve done surveys in my seminars and usually find around 80% of participants are confident they can write scenes that grab a reader’s attention and make them want to keep reading.  Unfortunately, for most writers, the industry does not concur.

The world would be a better place if the industry gatekeepers were more honest and told writers that they stopped reading after a scene or two.  While this could feel like a slap in the face, at least it might prompt writers to take a scene writing class where they could have a shot at remedying the problem.

But most of the managers and readers I know say it would be far too rude to say that.  I’ve argued that it’s far ruder not to tell the writer the truth, but so far, to no avail.

None of this is to suggest that writing professional-level scenes is all you need in order to get someone to recommend your script to an agent.  Obviously great characters and dialogue are essential, as is premise, structure, pacing and a host of other attributes.

But none of those things matter if you can’t write strong enough scenes, a skill which is a hell of a lot harder then most writers realize.  And until you can fully master this objective, nobody will be getting up at five in the morning to read your script.

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